Carolina baseball has hit some road blocks over the past two weeks going 3-5 in their last eight games. The Heels were swept on the road in Coral Gables despite taking a lead in every game. Carolina then played two lackluster games against High Point and UNC-Asheville, dropping the Asheville contest. Finally the Heels faced a Virginia Tech team that had lost each of their past fifteen games, winning the first two of the weekend series before dropping the Sunday game.
The biggest issue for Carolina during this tough spell has been that they are not hitting the ball nearly as well as they were to start the year. After hot starts, returning players Brian Miller, Eli Sutherland and Adam Pate have all seen their production drop off. Only three players have hit consistently well all year, Logan Warmoth, Tyler Ramirez and Zack Gahagan. The Heels have excellent pitching up and down their roster but they need to find offensive production up and down the lineup. First year players Kyle Datres, Cody Roberts and Tyler Lynn have all seen their batting averages drop over the past few weeks and the Heels need to get quality production for at least four more bats if they are to win series from good teams for the rest of the year. Without improved play from the offense, the Heels will struggle to make it anywhere in the postseason.
At #3 Miami:
Carolina took a lead early in every game but the starters ran into trouble their second time through the lineup in each contest. The Heels were unable to string together successful at bats all weekend. Miami's pitching had not been stellar going into the weekend but they thoroughly flummoxed Carolina's hitters. The bullpen for the Heels was better than the starters as a whole but the Heels failed to generate any substantial late game offense to make the games more competitive. In each game the Heels allowed one big inning that broke the game open Miami would get a runner or two on base and then the bats would come alive. The Heels never had the offensive firepower to hang in a game for nine innings and Miami earned the sweep.
The Heels have only two players who routinely hit for power, Gahagan and Ramirez. Both of them went deep against the Hurricanes but they did not have players on base who they could bat in. This team is currently built on stringing together plus at bats, getting on base, running aggressively and scoring on singles and doubles rather than relying on home runs. That formula works against most college teams when executed correctly. However against teams like Miami and other top ten teams, that formula comes up short. It especially comes up short when those one and two base hits stop coming. Without increased offensive production, Carolina will keep dropping games, particularly against Louisville, Virginia and even NC State who are all nationally ranked and are above average on offense.
Home for High Point and UNCA:
The Heels played back to back games in the midweek and went a disappointing 1-1. Against High Point Carolina started fast and ultimately cruised past the Panthers. Tyler Ramirez hit a triple to highlight a five run first inning and the team never looked back. The Heels benefited from 13 walks in the game and took advantage of the extra base runners. However starter Hunter Williams only lasted 4.2 innings and walked five, wearing out the bullpen which came back to bit the Heels the next day. Carolina started Rodney Hutchinson against Asheville and he gave up two runs--only one earned--in four innings and A.J. Bogucki gave up the deciding run in his longest outing of the season, 2.2 innings. Asheville did not walk the Heels nearly as much as High Point, indeed Carolina scored their only runs against the one Asheville pitcher who surrendered four of their six walks. On offense the Heels were silent, Logan Warmoth had two hits of the six on the day against the 8-22 team from the mountains.
The game was ultimately decided by two costly Carolina mistakes. Eli Sutherland threw away a ball towards first which surrendered a run and Brian Miller did not tag on a fly ball to center that allowed him to be doubled up at second with the bases loaded to end the game.
Home for Virginia Tech:
Zac Gallen and J.B. Bukauskas each struck out 13 in their starts against Virginia Tech with Gallen going the whole game to record another win for the Heels. The two pitchers were incredible for Carolina and they combined to allow only one run as Carolina took the first two games 6-0 and 4-1 respectively. The offense was not stellar either day for Carolina but the Heels did enough to get by to win each game. The Highlight on Friday was Freshman Kyle Datres' first career home run, a powerful blast over the left field wall.
On Sunday the Heels faced a stiffer test. Jason Morgan struggled with control all afternoon and was pulled after 4.1 innings in which he walked five. The Heels kept Virginia Tech in check all day until the ninth inning. In the top of the ninth with the score tied at two Brett Daniels allowed his first earned run of the year on a fielders choice at third. However, Eli Sutherland tried to turn a double play at second to end the inning but he threw the ball away and another run crossed the plate, putting the Hokies up two. In the bottom half of the inning Tyler Ramirez hit a solo home run to bring Carolina to within one. The bases were then loaded up and Sutherland came to bat. After Sutherland worked a 3-0 count Hokie pitcher Cole Kragel rallied to run the count full. Sutherland then fouled out to the catcher to end the game.
UNC is now 23-9 overall and 8-7 in the ACC. The Tar Heels are a half game ahead of Georgia Tech for 2nd place in the Coastal Division and tied for fifth overall.
Neutral site game in Charlotte against #5 South Carolina Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM on ESPNU
Weekend series is at defending national champion Virginia